|C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the Worlds Best Literature.|
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
|By John Henry Newman (18011890)|
|THEY moved right on like soldiers in their ranks, stopping at nothing and straggling for nothing; they carried a broad furrow or wheal all across the country, black and loathsome, while it was as green and smiling on each side of them and in front as it had been before they came. Before them, in the language of the prophets, was a paradise, and behind them a desert. They are daunted by nothing; they surmount walls and hedges, and enter inclosed gardens or inhabited houses. A rare and experimental vineyard has been planted in a sheltered grove. The high winds of Africa will not commonly allow the light trellis or the slim pole; but here the lofty poplar of Campania has been possible, on which the vine plant mounts so many yards into the air, that the poor grape-gatherers bargain for a funeral pile and a tomb as one of the conditions of their engagement. The locusts have done what the winds and lightning could not do, and the whole promise of the vintage, leaves and all, is gone, and the slender stems are left bare. There is another yard, less uncommon, but still tended with more than common care; each plant is kept within due bounds by a circular trench around it, and by upright canes on which it is to trail; in an hour the solicitude and long toil of the vine-dresser are lost, and his pride humbled. There is a smiling farm; another sort of vine of remarkable character is found against the farmhouse. This vine springs from one root, and has clothed and matted with its many branches the four walls. The whole of it is covered thick with long clusters, which another month will ripen. On every grape and leaf there is a locust. Into the dry caves and pits, carefully strewed with straw, the harvest-men have (safely, as they thought just now) been lodging the far-famed African wheat. One grain or root shoots up into ten, twenty, fifty, eighty, nay, three or four hundred stalks; sometimes the stalks have two ears apiece, and these shoot off into a number of lesser ones. These stores are intended for the Roman populace, but the locusts have been beforehand with them. The small patches of ground belonging to the poor peasants up and down the country, for raising the turnips, garlic, barley, watermelons, on which they live, are the prey of these glutton invaders as much as the choicest vines and olives. Nor have they any reverence for the villa of the civic decurion or the Roman official. The neatly arranged kitchen garden, with its cherries, plums, peaches, and apricots, is a waste; as the slaves sit round, in the kitchen in the first court, at their coarse evening meal, the room is filled with the invading force, and news comes to them that the enemy has fallen upon the apples and pears in the basement, and is at the same time plundering and sacking the preserves of quince and pomegranate, and reveling in the jars of precious oil of Cyprus and Mendes in the store-rooms. They come up to the walls of Sicca, and are flung against them into the ditch. Not a moments hesitation or delay: they recover their footing, they climb up the wood or stucco, they surmount the parapet, or they have entered in at the windows, filling the apartments and the most private and luxurious chambers; not one or two, like stragglers at forage or rioters after a victory, but in order of battle, and with the array of an army. Choice plants or flowers about the impluvia and xysti, for ornament or refreshment,myrtles, oranges, pomegranates, the rose and the carnation,have disappeared. They dim the bright marbles of the walls and the gilding of the ceilings. They enter the triclinium in the midst of the banquet; they crawl over the viands and spoil what they do not devour. Unrelaxed by success and by enjoyment, onward they go; a secret mysterious instinct keeps them together, as if they had a king over them. They move along the floor in so strange an order that they seem to be a tessellated pavement themselves, and to be the artificial embellishment of the place; so true are their lines, and so perfect is the pattern they describe. Onward they go, to the market, to the temple sacrifices, to the bakers stores, to the cook-shops, to the confectioners, to the druggists: nothing comes amiss to them; wherever man has aught to eat or drink, there are they, reckless of death, strong of appetite, certain of conquest.|| 1|